Events negatively impacting American quality and well-being of life are unfolding in such rapid succession that following the top news stories is enough to make one’s head spin. This last week, we learned that our government has secretly put in place a massive surveillance system beyond Orwellian proportions to spy on American citizens, and on the press, with the press being threatened by some members of Congress with prosecution for doing what the press is supposed to do—report and inform on what our government is doing. This scandal dovetails with Bradley Manning’s trial which began this week—Manning who has pleaded guilty of releasing public documents to WikiLeaks, of which Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch writes:
“Okay, give them this much: their bloodlust stops just short of the execution chamber door. The military prosecutors of the case against Bradley Manning, assumedly with the support of the Obama administration, have brought the virulent charge of “aiding the enemy” against the Army private who leaked state secrets. Yet they claim to have magnanimously taken the death penalty off the table. All they want to do is lock Manning up and throw away the key because, so they claim, he did nothing short of personally lending a hand to archfiend Osama bin Laden. This echoes the charge repeatedly made by top U.S. officials that he and WikiLeaks have “blood on their hands” for releasing a trove of military and State Department documents.
We’re talking about the very officials who planned and oversaw Washington’s wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the backlands of the planet and who have searched their own hands in vain for any signs of blood. (None at all, they don’t hesitate to assure us.) Among them are those, military and civilian, who set up our torture prisons at Guantanamo and in Afghanistan, are ultimately responsible for the perversions of Abu Ghraib, and oversaw kidnappings off the streets of global cities. These are the folks whose Air Force blew away at least six wedding parties in Iraq and Afghanistan, whose drones have killed hundreds, if not thousands of civilians, and whose special operations forces recently seem to have been involved in the torture, murder, and secret burial of Afghan civilians. I could go on, but why bother since it was all done “legally,” which means they can retire to corporate boards of their choice, rake in money from speeches, and write their memoirs, while Manning, whose motive (to judge by the online conversations he had) was to end the bloodletting, reveal information about American crimes, and to shut down our wars will have no memoir to write, no life to live. It can’t get worse than that, can it?”
But to continue with the breaking stories: While many cities and states are cutting public education funds, two major cities (Chicago and Philadelphia) are closing large numbers of public schools, primarily in neighborhoods that serve the poor and black neighborhoods, leaving students adrift, and throwing our nation’s highly qualified teachers out of work. Chicago’s Democratic mayor and President Obama’s former White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, claimed the need for budget cuts, shuttered fifty schools, yet spent millions of tax-payer funds—those savings from gutting public education—on a sports arena on an elite private college campus. Emanuel and Obama have both heralded Charter Schools as the mechanism for ‘improving education’ in the United States.
But ridding the American landscape of public education is happily a bi-partisan affair: Pennsylvania Governor, Republican Tom Corbett, also claimed fiscal responsibility in closing twenty-three Philadelphia schools and laying off teachers. He is spending the savings on a prison to incarcerate those poor and black (former) students. Then he’ll get to charge the Pennsylvania tax-payers $50k per year upkeep per inmate. According to Decarcerate PA, a coalition of organizations and individuals seeking an end to mass incarceration:
“At a time when many other states across the country are exploring ways to shrink their prison population and close unnecessary facilities, Pennsylvania is moving in the opposite direction. Governor Corbett intends to spend $685 million to expand the state’s already massive prison system. This money will fund the construction of three new state prisons and expand nine others. It will add 8,000 new beds to our prison system at a time when the governor cut $951 million in education spending, along with massive cuts to a host of other essential programs and services.”
There was a time in our nation’s past when free and public education was seen as a prerequisite to maintaining a strong democratic republic. People needed to be educated to functionally participate in a self-governing society. No more. Now the agenda seems to be to keep the masses uneducated. After all, ignorance makes a population easier to control. And if the they’re already incarcerated, they won’t be on the streets demonstrating as America spirals downward.
Moving on to more new stories: International trade agreements are being negotiated in secret, without public knowledge or debate—trade agreements that do not benefit the people of any of the countries involved, including (and especially) the U.S.—indeed, the terms of which supersede national laws allowing corporations to further destroy the environment as well as wage and labor conditions. According to Democracy Now:
“The Obama administration is facing increasing scrutiny for the extreme secrecy surrounding negotiations around a sweeping new trade deal that could rewrite the nation’s laws on everything from healthcare and Internet freedom to food safety and the financial markets. The latest negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) were recently held behind closed doors in Lima, Peru, but the Obama administration has rejected calls to release the current text. Even members of Congress have complained about being shut out of the negotiation process. Last year, a leaked chapter from the draft agreement outlined how the TPP would allow foreign corporations operating in the United States to appeal key regulations to an international tribunal. The body would have the power to override U.S. law and issue penalties for failure to comply with its rulings”.
In case we have not learned our lesson yet via NAFTA and GATT, not only do international trade agreements eviscerate our nation’s laws that protect we the people, international trade agreements kill jobs, particularly those that pay a livable wage in America, while destroying the economy and environment of all countries involved. And this trade agreement, plus another under negotiation with the EU, are being fast-forwarded by another Democratic President—you know—the President of the party that is supposed to represent the interests of the people as opposed to the GOP which supposedly represents the interests of big business.
The XL Pipeline is being built in some regions of the country, in spite of massive public outrage and protests, and in spite of ruptured pipelines spilling dirty tar sands oil into lakes, rivers, and onto land and neighborhood streets (Mayflower, Arkansas in 2013, and Kalamazoo, MI 2010). We’re learning that tar sand oil is so dirty that we do not even know how to clean it up. Hydraulic fracturing, exempted from the Clean Water Act in 2005, thanks to then Vice President and pseudo-President Dick Cheney and Halliburton, KBR prostitute, is polluting our land, air, and water, and deforming and killing livestock. Something that contains poison capable of killing and deforming livestock obviously is not safe for humans. Yet those chemicals are in our water, our agricultural land and in our neighborhood lawns, and the methane released is in the air we breathe, while greatly contributing to global warming. Super storms are leveling wide swaths of cities and rural regions with massive destruction to personal property, and now wild fires are again consuming our nation’s forests and grasslands. The storms and drought are exacerbated by climate change, yet our government refuses to enact any legislation to curtail our fossil fuel carbon footprint as is being done in other developed countries. Nor will Congress tax the corporations realizing astronomical profits, while socializing the costs of their pollution onto the public being poisoned, and whose property is being destroyed by the super storms. Alas, both parties are bought and paid for, and in the pockets of the oil and natural gas giants.
Lawmakers at the State and Federal level are passing legislation that violates the law of the land on women’s rights to birth control and abortion in the name of these misogynist power-hungry male’s personal religion, whose 2000 year-old dogma is dedicated to affirmative action for men, with women held as the mechanistic design for reproduction to be used and controlled. That the Christian fundamentalists are in bed and fornicating with the .0001% corporate elitists/fascists is, unfortunately for our democracy, a sad reality. It’s (their) God’s law that should be the law of the land, and to h*ll with separation of Church and State. And because their religious philosophy of dominion over the earth and all the animals that walk the earth (as well as all the birds and fishes) marries well with the corporatist capitalistic philosophy of dominion for profit… well, it’s a marriage made in heaven to the detriment of the earth and all life on the earth.
Labor unions and collective bargaining rights have been virtually destroyed, which is a death knell for the middle class. Sorry Tea Party GOP and Libertarian minions: this means you too are headed for poverty. You’d better dust off that tent, pack up your tin cup, and be training your children how to pan-handle. Minimum slave wage labor continues with no wage increase in sight, while CEO’s pay rate compared to a worker has ballooned 1000 to 1 since 1950. When minimum wage should now be at $22/hour—had wages kept up with inflation since the 1950’s—our President weakly mentions that it should be raised to $9/hour, with Congress even ignoring that pitiful sound-bite. It has been announced just this past week, that President Obama plans to nominate WalMart cheerleader and advocate of WalMart being a model for American business, Jason Furman, as his Chief Economic Advisor. So much for raising the minimum wage to a livable income level. Oh well, it was a pretty small sound-bite in some obscure speech—the President didn’t really mean it that the minimum wage should be raised, even if only by a paltry amount. In case you’re not aware, WalMart is a huge economic drain on American communities. It drives local small businesses that provided decent paying jobs, and contributed to the local tax base, out of business. It replaces those jobs with low-paid, part-time jobs that provide no healthcare benefits, driving up the community’s emergency room costs paid by tax payers (remember that was the Romney model). WalMart employees are subsequently forced to rely on food stamps and other tax-payer subsidies just to survive. WalMart sends its profits to regional centers, and off-shore, to avoid contributing to the local tax base they are decimating. And, of course, the company runs brutal sweatshops in countries like Bangladesh to provide those cheap goods that wear out fast, need to be replaced, thus adding environmental waste and pollution. We know their business model would be heralded by Ayan Rand and her protégés, Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, and Scott Walker. Now we know it is heralded by President Barack Obama.
Monsanto, a mega-food and agriculture monopoly, is genetically modifying our food, and giant agriculture companies are loading our food with arsenic and other chemicals with no standards for health and safety allowed to be set for measuring this poisoning, or in regulating those weakened standards that are in place due to a corporate-controlled and gutted FDA. In 2012, Samantha Bonar writes in the LA Weekly:
“Support is growing for a petition calling for the ouster of Michael Taylor, a senior adviser for the FDA who formerly served as vice president of Monsanto, the controversial agricultural multinational at the forefront of genetically modified foods, the Washington Post reports. President Obama took a lot of flak when he appointed Taylor to the position three years ago. As the second highest-ranking official at the FDA, Taylor is responsible for implementing the day-to-day policies that govern food safety laws in the U.S.
Tipping off the current anti-Taylor campaign is his alleged practice of going after small raw-milk producers, including the Amish, while letting large factory farms responsible for huge food-borne illness outbreaks go scot-free. As an example, activists cite the fact that Iowa agribusinessman Jack DeCoster – who was responsible for the more than 500 million salmonella-tainted eggs that were recalled in 2010 – has not been fined or arrested by the FDA, while Amish dairy farmers have been subjected to yearlong stings and hauled away in handcuffs.
While at Monsanto, Taylor oversaw the policy of the company’s genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rbGH/rbST). Milk from injected cows has been a controversial topic, with many medical organizations and hospitals speaking out against it. Monsanto also has been the focus of dozens of protests for a number of its other policies over the years, most of them targeting its crops that are genetically modified to be disease- and pest-resistant. “Naturally occurring plant and animal species are permanently threatened by the introduction of DNA and hormonal modification, Monsanto’s core businesses,” the petition on Signon.org reads.
“Taylor is the same person who as a high-ranking official at the FDA in the 1990s promoted allowing genetically modified organisms into the U.S. food supply without undergoing a single test to determine their safety or risks. This is a travesty,” the petition states. It continues: “This unthinkable linkage between food safety and corporate interests that have little regard for the public health must be stopped. This example of a ‘fox watching the henhouse’ is inexcusable. President Obama must reverse this unimaginably dangerous policy and isolate the FDA from corporate influence.”
The petition, launched by Frederick Ravid, a financial analyst in Atlanta, also says that 20 years of scientific research published in more than 600 journals shows “that GM foods, hormones and related pesticides are the root cause for the increase of many serious diseases in the U.S.,” including “changes in major organs and in hormonal, immune, digestive and reproductive systems” that may be linked to various cancers.”
But, as Edward Bonnett writes in regard to the role of government in safety, and the revolving door between the US Government and Monsanto:
According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), its responsibilities include “[p]rotecting the public health by assuring that foods are safe, wholesome, sanitary and properly labeled.” This responsibility entails regulating a large number of companies producing this nation’s food, making appointments to the high-level positions within the agency very important.
Most high-level FDA employees have a background in either medicine or law, but one of the largest private-sector sources is the Monsanto Company. Over the past decades, at least seven high-ranking employees in the FDA have an employment history with the Monsanto Company.”
So yes: once again, the love-fest allowing a mega-corporation to poison our food is bi-partisan. Monsanto pays generous campaign contributions to candidates from both parties.
Those top stories on very important issues are to name but a few. Yet it’s enough that a rational mind is surely able to discern the reality of what is happening—the landscape of evidence all around us—and not mindlessly absorb the inundating propaganda via corporate-owned mouthpieces (politicians and media pundits). It begs the question: are these assaults on 4th Amendment privacy rights, public education, the environment, organized labor, women’s reproductive rights, and even on all our nation’s laws (laws superseded by international trade agreements) connected? Are we on a bi-partisan strategized fast-forward to a vast remaking of America into a third-world class society comprised of the .0001% at one level with the remainder struggling in poverty in an environment so poisoned and hostile and disease-creating, as to being rendered unable to sustain life? And will women end up as in Margaret Atwood’s “A Handmaid’s Tale” where a fundamentalist totalitarian regime holds in bondage those women whose reproductive systems have not been so badly damaged by the poisons to serve as sex slaves for the purpose of repopulating the planet that has been destroyed by war and pollution? Is a vast surveillance and tracking apparatus of citizens being put in place to deter and criminalize any civil dissent as we spiral downward, with local para-militarized police armed with micro-wave and other space-aged weaponry standing ready to be turned on any who resist (as in the crackdown on Occupy Wall Street)? Should we be connecting these dots?
If this sounds paranoid, let us finally recognize that our government has been hijacked by corporate wealth and a very sophisticated system of information/misinformation domination. The evidence is everywhere. So what does this mean? Corporations are not human, in spite of the SCOTUS’s Citizen United ruling that corporations are people. Their reason for existence is to grow profits for their shareholders. As such, they are sociopathic in nature, and the more sociopathic greed they exhibit, the more they prosper. They have little empathy and caring for the American communities we cherish; they hide their profits made from the American people’s labor and purchasing power in off-shore tax havens and leave it to the American communities to pay the cleanup costs of their destructive operations. As to our two-party electoral representative governing system serving as our mechanism for course correction when forces get out of balance, let us try to climb out from under the cognitive dissonance, and instead, look at reality. We came out in huge numbers in 2008 and again in 2012 and we won. Yet the assault on the American people has accelerated alarmingly as outlined above. Those who spread fear and paranoia that President Obama’s agenda is to take us toward Communism are ignorant and their charges laughably absurd. We are not headed for Communism, or any form of Socialism. Instead, the agenda and direction is the exact opposite. Because unfortunately, President Obama, as well as both parties in Congress, and even our now politicized Courts, are governing as corporate-controlled cogs in lockstep within the capitalist chain. So this is where we are in June of 2013.
I began this commentary with last week’s revelation that NSA’s gargantuan spying apparatus is spying on American citizens without cause and without warrants. That this is a whole-heartedly bi-partisan love-fest, is the one thing that stands in stark clarity. When the Bush/Cheney Administration rushed through the Patriot Act in September/October, 2001, Wisconsin Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, was the only Senator to vote against it. That’s right. In the entire body of the U.S. Senate, one Senator abstained and only one Democrat voted ‘no’. All of the remainder of the Senate voted ‘yes’ on adopting the Patriot Act. (Feingold was voted out of office and now heads up the Progressive Campaign Change Committee.)
When revelations of the NSA spying on U.S. citizens’ phone and e-mail records was revealed during the Bush Administration, a furor of opposition erupted from the public, causing Democrats to denounce this as unlawful (and beyond the scope of the Patriot Act). Then Presidential candidate, Barack Obama, campaigned on the promise to stop this unconstitutional invasion of privacy, and this promise was included in the 2008 Democratic Party Platform, a section from which stated:
“In recent years, we’ve seen an Administration put forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand. The Democratic Party rejects this dichotomy. We will restore our constitutional traditions, and recover our nation’s founding commitment to liberty under law.
We support constitutional protections and judicial oversight on any surveillance program involving Americans. We will review the current Administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. We reject illegal wiretapping of American citizens, wherever they live.
We reject the use of national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. We reject the tracking of citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war. We reject torture. We reject sweeping claims of “inherent” presidential power. We will revisit the Patriot Act and overturn unconstitutional executive decisions issued during the past eight years. We will not use signing statements to nullify or undermine duly enacted law. And we will ensure that law-abiding Americans of any origin, including Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans, do not become the scapegoats of national security fears.
We believe that our Constitution, our courts, our institutions, and our traditions work.”
From that reassuring language, we flip forward to June 2013 to the shocking news that not only are all U.S. citizens’ phone calls being data-monitored, but all of their electronic communications through private Internet providers are as well. We learned that the NSA has a backdoor into all the Internet giants: Microsoft, Google, Apple, Yahoo, Facebook, PalTalk, Scype, YouTube, and AOL—you name it. Further revelations show that the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Authorization) Court operates in such secrecy, that it is now impossible for Congress to provide any oversight, thus the Court’s judicial oversight has been nullified.
The bureaucratic line from NSA Emperor/General Keith Alexander, President Obama and his minions, and nearly every member of Congress –Democrats and Republicans alike – all parroting in unison, are claiming that this violation of American citizens’ privacy rights per the Fourth Amendment are necessary for national security. They tell us we must give up our liberty to be ‘safe.’ Our corporate-owned mainstream media are mimicking loud and long, live-streaming the Government’s talking points across our nation’s airways and on-line. There are other voices, with credible experience and background to know the truth about those thwarted terrorist attacks, who are contradicting that spying on citizen’s communications has prevented any terrorist attacks. But since the government classifies everything and operates in such secret, it is not possible to have an open debate about which terrorist attacks have been prevented and how, or if it was traditional intelligence work and law enforcement that caught and stopped those attacks. Regardless, we should ask ourselves, “safe from whom?”
When whistleblower, Chris Pyle, former military instructor, exposed the CIA and Army’s monitoring of millions of Americans in the 1970s, the U.S. actually had a functioning Congress. The ability of corporations and the wealthy to buy out members of Congress had not yet been made legally possible. If the name Frank Church rings a bell, it is because the Church Select Committee on Intelligence, actually held hearings for the purpose of investigating this assault on the Fourth Amendment—rather than put on a clown show for political posturing—and enacted laws curbing government spying abuses. The 2001 Patriot Act and the amendments added to its reauthorizations since have gutted those laws, and nullified the FISA Court which was established to provide a legal check and balance in protection of the Fourth Amendment. In spite of President Obama and the Democratic Party’s assurances that this illegality would be made to disappear, the Obama Executive branch, and bi-partisan Congressional Branch of Government, instead increased the surveillance, and made it pseudo-legal. Though, because all of this was done in secret, the legality has never been tested in the courts, as it likely will be now. And, unlike in the 1970’s, today we do not have a functioning Congress. Almost all members of the Senate and House from both parties, are bought and paid for by corporate campaign funding, including the elephant in the room, the privatized military industrial complex—those corporations that are making astronomical profits on the super-cyber war and spy structure now in place—which accounts for the nearly unanimous roar we hear coming from the Congressional cheering section.
I am not advocating that government is bad. On the contrary, as a collective of people, we very much need government to protect our interests, and to utilize the tax resources we pay into a system, to provide for the collective services we need for quality of life, infrastructure efficiency, and security—economic as well as our physical security. It is only when government has been over-taken by a collective few whose agenda is dominion and totalitarianism for power and profit for those few, at the expense of all others, that it works against the people. And since we are now where we are, it is time to connect the dots. It is time to figure out how to take our government back from two parties that have become one and are totally bought and controlled by souless corporations. If our children and grandchildren are to have a future, we must do it and we must succeed.